Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Blithedale Romance. Nathaniel Hawthorne.

New York: Literary Classics of the united States, Inc.
1852 (1983)

The purpose of this blog, "Book Club Prep," is to suggest some books to read and discuss in book clubs. I will suggest both contemporary and classic works, will tell why I think the book is interesting and will include some ideas and quotes from the book to start the discussion.

Why read it? A novel. My favorite Hawthorne romance/novel, but the critics don't think so. Good blend of realism and romance (not the love kind, but the kind with improbable events). Timely in that the novel deals with the theme of feminism: beauty and brains vs. beauty and submissive. Which does the male take every time? Beauty and submissive. Narrator has a surprise at the end.

Blithedale, a Utopian community, is modeled on Brook Farm, the Transcendentalist experiment at West Roxbury, Massachusette, in which Hawthorne had participated ten years before he wrote the novel. Miles Coverdale, the narrator, is a coldly inquisitive observer; in revealing his knowledge of the other members of the community, he reveals himself.

Zenobia, a dark, queenly, intellectual woman, is in love with Hollingsworth, an egotistic reformer who plans to convert Blithedale into an experiment in prison reform. He has all the energy and fire of reformers, reminding me of Barack Obama. Priscilla, a pale, innocent girl, fallen under the evil influence of the mesmerist Westervelt, has performed as the Veiled Lady. She is the stereotype of the pretty, clingy thing, who is subservient to men, in contrast to Zenobia who is a strong woman. Zenobia loves Hollingsworth, but Hollingsworth loves Priscilla because he cannot brook the intellectual strength of Zenobia and wallows in the unquestioning adoration of Priscilla.

When Hollingsworth admits his love for Priscilla, Zenobia drowns herself. Hollingsworth, shocked by the experience, abandons his schemes and becomes dependent on Priscilla for strength. Another example of the "Star-Is-Born" theme in which the man is dominant and weakens to become dependent on the woman.

In showing how men fall for the pretty, clingy females like Priscilla, and are afraid of the strong, intellectual females like Zenobia, Hawthorne reveals himself to be a feminist long before feminism became popular. But his narrator is not. He admits in the end that he has always loved Priscilla.

Some Ideas and Quotes to Discuss:
From Hawthorne's preface: "His [the author's] present merely to establish a theater, a little removed from the highway of ordinary travel, where the creatures of his brain may play their phantasmagorical antics, without exposing them to too close a comparison with the actual events of real lives."

"The greatest obstacle to being heroic, is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and to be obeyed."

"One felt an influence breathing out of her [Zenobia], such as might suppose to come from Eve,when she was just made, and her creator brought her to Adam, saying-- 'Behold, here is a woman!' "

"The fantasy occurred to me, that she [Priscilla] was some desolate kind of creature, doomed to wander about in snow storms...."

"How can she [a woman] be happy, after discovering that fate has assigned her but one single event, which she must continue to make the substance of her whole life [while] a man has his choice of innumerable events."

Of Hollingsworth: "...those men who have surrendered themselves to an over-ruling purpose...have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience."

"She [Priscilla] met with terrible mishaps in her efforts to milk a cow; she let the poultry into the garden; she generally spoilt whatever part of the dinner she took n charge; she broke crockery; she dropt our biggest pitcher into the well; and...was as unserviceable a member of society as any young lady in the land."

"...a man cannot...more effectually show his contempt for a brother-mortal, nor more gallingly assume a position of superiority, than by addressing him as 'friend.' "

"...Hollingsworth's heart is on fire with his own purpose, but icy for all human affection...."

"Zenobia, besides, was fond of giving us readings from Shakespeare, and often with a depth of tragic power, or breadth of comic effect, that made one feel it an intolerable wrong to the world, that she did not go at once upon the stage."

Zenobia: "It is my belief--yes, and my prophecy, should I die before it happens--that, when my sex shall achieve its rights, there will be ten eloquent women, where there is now one eloquent man."

Zenobia: "Thus far, no woman in the world has ever once spoken out her whole heart and her whole mind."

Zenobia on Priscilla: "She is the type of womanhood, such as man has spent centuries in making it."

"I see through the system [of reform].... There is not human nature in it."

"...and happiness (which never comes but incidentally) will come to us unawares."

Hollingsworth: "Be with me...or be against third choice for you."

"It was a woeful thought, that a woman of Zenobia's diversified capacity should have fancied herself irretrievably defeated on the broad battle-field of life, and with no refuge, save to fall on her own sword, merely because Love had gone against her."

"It is nonsense, and a miserable wrong--the result, like so many others of masculine egotism--that the success or failure of a woman's existence should be made to depend wholly on the affections, and on one species of affection; while man has such a multitude of other chances, that this [Zenobia's suicide] seems but an incident."

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